Saturday, August 6, 2011

Making Myself Scream

In her excellent book Refuse to Regain and on her website of the same name, Barbara Berkeley has coined the phrase "scream weight" for a previously heavy person's new upper limit - the number which will trigger Full Diet Mode the moment it shows up on the scale, heading off any further backsliding before it gets out of hand.

I like this concept a lot. Setting this kind of limit seems good common sense. But, speaking as someone who's gained back a lot of lost weight over the years, I can also say there's a problem with it: you have to regularly and ruthlessly climb onto the scale to see your Scream Weight in the first place.

This has always been a problem for me. The moment I start to backslide after a successful spell of dieting (excuse me, "lifestyle modification"!), I also start avoiding the bathroom scale - denial is part of backsliding. I'm aware that I'm eating food I shouldn't, I can see and feel that I'm putting weight back on, so it's very easy to talk myself out of finding out exactly how bad things are getting. And if I don't get on the scale and see a number greater than my Scream Weight, then that dietary and fitness "red alert" (cue Star Trek claxon sound here) doesn't kick in.

Usually, of course, once I've eaten my way back into my fatter clothes and my wardrobe options narrow, I do finally force myself to climb onto the scale and assess the damage. By then, though, I've exceeded my Scream Weight by thirty or forty pounds, and it will be months before I get back there, much less below it.

Scream Weight is a great concept for catching a bad trend before it gains traction. But it only works when you have the self-discipline to keep checking your weight, so there's a paradox in play. If you have the self-discipline to do that, you're probably also able to maintain at least most of your good eating and exercise habits, so there's less chance you'll have a Scream Weight crisis in the first place. The people who really need those regular reality checks, though, are also the ones, like me, who are most likely to persuade themselves to let the scale gather dust "just until they get back into the groove" or whatever. And then the damage mounts.

Self-monitoring: it's obviously necessary for long-term success, but it's hard, especially on the days you know you won't like what you see on the scale.

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